Music reviews

Top 10 Banjo moments of 2011

Derided in countless jokes, often by the very people that play it, the banjo just might be poised to show us why it really is the greatest instrument ever. Or, at the very least, to make a good case as to why it isn’t the worst.

  1. Jens Kruger releases the “Appalachian Concerto,” an homage to the banjo and its place in the history of Appalachia. And it’s a concerto. With, like, strings and everything.
  2. Noam Pikelny releases “Bluegrass Diva” a video that is not only funny, but includes some of the most notable players of the instrument ever, including Bela and Earl. And, for once, it’s the singing that makes the piece funny, not the presence of a banjo.
  3. Bela Fleck premieres his “Concerto for Banjo and Orchestra.” Hmm, that makes two banjo concertos this year …
  4. Steve Martin releases a banjo album with a title intended to poke a bit of fun at birdwatchers. (How’s that for the pot calling the kettle black?)The strength of “Rare Bird Alert” helps make Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers the IBMA performers of the year.
  5. Eight year old Jimmy Mizzone records a version of “Flint Hill Special” with his two brothers in his bedroom that, when posted to youtube garners, like, a gazillion hits.
  6. Steve Martin awards his second Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass to Sammy Shelor on Letterman. It’s $50,000 of his own money, simply because he thinks banjo is a great instrument and deserves a better rap.
  7.  “Give Me the Banjo” airs in primetime nationally on PBS. It’s a slick documentary about why banjo matters. Haven’t seen anything like that for the guitar, have you? Only saying.
  8. Kermit goes back to the big screen, plays the banjo, and nets millions on the first weekend of release.
  9. With the release of “Follow Me Down”  Sarah Jarosz demonstrated once again that “banjo prodigy” isn’t a contradiction in terms. (The New York Times called her that in their coverage of the Grammies this year.)
  10. Thanks to Abigail Washburn’s “City of Refuge,” released this year, NPRs Bob Boylen fell in love with a banjo album and admits it on air.
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